The Golden State Warriors, despite a seeming air of invincibility in the past two outstanding regular seasons, have struggled a bit in the postseason. Whether it be the Memphis Grizzlies 2-1 deficit or the 3-1 hole as a 73-win regular team against the Oklahoma City Thunder, wins in the playoffs have not gone according to the best laid plans. Part of that makes sense given that this team perhaps wasn’t ready for the biggest of lights in 2015, and partly because all NBA teams that do win a championship need to experience some type of heartbreak before breaking through. With those rungs on the ladder in the rearview mirror, the dominant version of the Warriors have arrived in 2017.
The first quarter of the second closeout game for these Warriors mirrored the first against the Portland Trail Blazers. Unlike that contest, the Warriors didn’t come out and snipe the Jazz to death. Instead, they methodically dismantled an undermanned Utah offense and cut them up with an offense that relied on the brilliance of Draymond Green’s passing and Stephen Curry’s gravity. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Durant say the majority of the quarter in foul trouble and failed to score.
Just like the regular season when the Warriors had to revert back to their 2015 roots with KD sidelined with a calf injury, the Closeout Game Warriors were able to find that button almost instantly. And just like that, a 39-17 start to this Game 4 sealed any shot of the Jazz extending a series back home where it would cut into what now appears to be a customary week-long rest for the Warriors and their rivals across the country in Cleveland.
To run through the box score stats, the Warriors won 121-95, Draymond dropped a 17-11-10 triple double and Steph poured in 30 points on 15 shots. And holding true to those numbers, they were the two best players that provided a defense that left the Jazz shooting Chris Paul/Tony Parker style floaters for the next three quarters, and on offense, running around in 4-on-3 defensive collapses.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite KD’s addition, the bench units still struggled, and in the two minutes he played with the bench in the fourth quarter, a Steph-less offense still struggled, small sample size be damned. And on defense, without a true seven-footer or “rim protector”, opposing teams still challenged and failed to score around and over Draymond at the rim and on the perimeter.
As the Warriors fly into the Western Conference Finals, they are starting to mesh between two different styles: the one they perfected that led to a title and the peak performance level that the KD Warriors have yet to reach this season. There are the Cavs on other side, pumping up the modern offense to never-before-seen levels. And on this side, the Warriors are putting together not only an offense that forces you to choose between death and torture, but a defense that rivals the best and most versatile we have ever seen.
The collision course is set now. And the Warriors might be better prepared for it. Mike Brown adjusted and played the smallball lineup a bit more than in the regular season. It got crushed at the end of the first half and recovered to look lethal at the end of the third quarter. The Warriors saw some adversity and proceeded to coast through it without much trouble.
Now the new and ever improving Warriors have another 6 days off, at the minimum, to get ready for their next victim. The scariest part for everyone going up against them is their intersection of combining the forces of a healthy 73-win regular season team with the best two-way 7-foot generational wing at the same time. They haven’t got there yet, but the second sweep is another step towards a future that lends no hope to anyone outside of LeBron James. And we are now just one series each away from the third matchup in the greatest modern rivalry.